Thursday, April 06, 2006

True Believers

So, Ian Brill and I are talking about DC Nation, the new version of the promo page at the back of DC’s superhero books which is centered around a weekly column by Dan Didio where he tries to sound enthusiastic about everything that DC’s publishing and make people excited to buy a book called Uncle Sam and the Freedom Fighters which is, admittedly, no small fear, and Brill (who I shall refer to with his last name for the rest of this column, because his last name is Brill, and I’m jealous. Although if my last name was Brill, I’d be too tempted to add an exclamation point at the end for emphasis) makes a comment about Dan Didio being the new Stan Lee.

Now, please know that Ian Brill is a very intelligent man. He writes not only his own blog, but also for such publications as The Comics Journal and Publisher’s Weekly, which means that many people are not only aware of Brill’s intelligence but are willing to pay for the ability to use said intelligence for their own nefarious ends. Brill gets sent free comics by lots of publishers because they want to read what he has to say about them, because publishers also recognize his intelligence. I have very little doubt in my mind that one day Brill will be running some comic company of his own, having gone from critic and journalist to being co-opted by the publishing machine that he shall then carve out his own niche within, and that niche shall grow until he gets to be The Man, but a good The Man, who makes good comics that shall be loved by many, because Brill is a man of insight and taste as well as intelligence. But nonetheless, for Ian Brill to say that Dan Didio is the new Stan Lee, can only mean one thing.

Ian Brill is high.

(High on life, of course. I have no knowledge of his experience with jazz cigarettes or any other type of intoxicant, and really I have no desire to have any knowledge along those lines.)

It’s a strange thought that Stan Lee, of all people, needs some kind of critical re-evaluation. But these days, it’s as if what he’s become best known for is being the official Marvel shill and the man behind such catchphrases as “Excelsior!” “Nuff Said!” and “True Believer!”. Anything that ends in an exclamation point, in fact. When we see Dan Didio or Joe Quesada act like assholes for the sake of selling comics and getting people to talk about their company’s latest shock-horror stunt and grab for mainstream media attention, it gets defended as somehow being in the spirit of Stan Lee, as if that was the man’s greatest contribution to comics.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time, way before the internet and controversy and fanboys like me having any kind of public voice outside of trade magazines and fanzines, when Stan Lee was officially considered The Creator of Marvel Comics. People – fans and pros alike – had problems with that idea, of course, and made noise to bring attention to the enormous contribution that the artists had made to the whole shebang, what with the infamous “Marvel Method” of writing and all… But now it’s as if the pendulum has swung too far in that direction, and we’re losing sight of what Lee brought to everything in favor of giving Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita and others their due and then some.

Sure, Stan Lee was a salesman wherever possible, and a fan of hype that went so far overboard that it actually went over, under the entire ship and then back onboard again on the other side. Yes, he was given to hyperbolic statements at the drop of a hat, and liked to write in a somewhat hyperactive style not unlike a man who’d just discovered a thing called “alliteration”. But he’s also kind of one of the more important people in comics because of his creative work. His recollections of how everything came about may differ wildly depending on when he tells the story, but without him, there would be no Fantastic Four or no X-Men. No Spider-Man. No Marvel Comics at all, which I’m sure some would not really have a problem with, but still: You can’t imagine a world without Marvel Comics, never mind just a comic industry without them.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Stan Lee was one of the greatest comic writers who’d ever walked the earth. I’m not even necessarily saying that Stan Lee was that good of a comic writer (although I like him, personally). I’m just saying that his comic writing is infinitely more important a contribution to comics than his work in the hype industry. Dan Didio can’t be the new Stan Lee; he’s just an editor. Joe Quesada’s claim may be somewhat stronger – He works for Marvel, after all, and he is a creator himself – but even so. He has worked, for the most part, on other people’s creations – with the exception of Painkiller Jane and Ash, I know, but he abandoned those for the possibility of playing with other people’s toys – and hasn’t shown the manic, desperate, creative drive that Lee had at his best. Both Didio and Quesada are great at what they do, yes. It’s just that what they do is something else.

If I had to make a claim for the new Stan Lee – and it’s my column, so why not? – then I admit that I’d have to choose Larry Young, of AiT/PlanetLar fame. He’s a creator and a salesman, with a love for both positions and – perhaps more importantly for this particular comparison – a reputation for both, as well. He’s someone who understands what it takes to effectively sell your own work to an audience that isn’t already eating out of your hand, which alone makes him different from the heads-of-comics-juggernauts mentioned above (and similar to Stan Lee, way back before he was “Stan Lee” with a trademark after the name), as well as someone who isn’t afraid of a little self-mythologizing along the way. Give it ten years, and he’ll be doing voiceovers for the Saturday morning cartoon version of Astronauts In Trouble and some younger comic pundit on whatever the internet of tomorrow is will be arguing that whatever Editor In Chief of the latest indie publisher is the new Larry Young.

They’ll be wrong, of course.